Are you considering becoming a Global Volunteer? Wondering which program is best for you? I’ve volunteered six times, in five different countries: St Lucia, Vietnam, the Cook Islands & Mexico, where I volunteered twice, and most recently Portugal. I’ve done blog posts about four of them, describing how each program was wonderful in its own way, and oh, so very rewarding.
Because I get sucked into all of the “top 10” lists, I decided to do one that will encourage you to consider spending two very worthwhile weeks in that fantastic part of the world known as Portugal.
- Highly motivated, interesting students:
My assignment was English conversation at the Polytechnic Institute of Beja,
where I spent evenings chatting with adults who already had an impressive grasp of English, but wanted the opportunity to practice and to improve their pronunciation.
Three of us taught together, breaking the students into smaller groups after the first forty five minutes of the two hour nightly class.
Other volunteers taught at the high school, middle schools and the prison. Some tutored restaurant owners and staff.
Interestingly, we each thought that WE had gotten the best assignment, which leads me to the next reason.
- An Incredible team Leader:
Joe has been leading teams to Beja, Portugal for many years, and his extensive experience really shows. He quickly sized up the 10 of us and figured out which volunteer best matched which assignment. He’d give Match.com a run for their money, if he ever decided to get into the dating business!
Joe knows all Beja’s historical sights, the most fun restaurants, the best excursions for the weekend, the cultural events, where you can get your laundry inexpensively done…everything you need to know to thoroughly enjoy your non-volunteering hours.
- Interaction with the Community:
When I say that Joe knows everybody in Beja, I’m not exaggerating. One night, we enjoyed dinner with Beja’s mayor and councilwoman. And yes, those are gifts the councilwoman is holding.
What was in the bag? Lots of local goodies, including my favorite–chocolate from the shop down the street.
- Lasting friendships:
Laurie, Jeanne and I met when we volunteered in St. Lucia in 2012.
Although Jeanne and I volunteered together in Mexico in 2017, this was the first time since that first meeting that I had had the pleasure of spending time with Laurie. Having her as my “partner” at the University made it even more fun!
The best part? I now have SEVEN new volunteers who I would be thrilled to see on a future assignment.
- Shared Experiences:
It almost felt like I was back in college. Because we pretty much took over the first floor of the Hotel Bejense, I knew just about everyone in every room on that floor. There was always someone to play with, just like back in the dorm. Want to have a chat over a cup of tea? No problem. Just walk down the hall, to the breakfast room and along the way, you are sure to bump into a buddy or two.
The hotel also had a cozy lounge, in which we gathered every night to share our experiences, before heading off to dinner. As you can see, experiences weren’t the ONLY things we were sharing! Our fee for Global Volunteers covers our housing, food, transportation to the work site but not wine. Again, no problem. We took turns purchasing wine, cheese and other snacks to make our evening meetings more enjoyable.
- Serpa Cheese Festival:
Okay, so there is no guarantee that a future program will take place during the Cheese Festival. We just happened to luck out. (That cheese in the photo above was purchased at the festival by one of the volunteers.)
There were LOTS of free samples of cheese AND wine AND chocolate!
Not only that, but we got to experience “Cante Alentejano”. Okay, so I will never make my fortune as a videographer, but this 33 second clip will give you an idea of this very stylized art form.
Global Volunteers are free to travel during the weekends. Because public transportation is reliable, comfortable and inexpensive, we took the bus on Sunday to the beautiful city of Evora, spending the day enjoying all that it had to offer, like the Roman Temple,
the Chapel of Bones.
and even more music!
There is so much to say about this lovely place that I devoted an entire blog post just to Beja. Click here if you want a closer look at this delightful town. It is so worth visiting.
It is also impossible to list all that Lisbon has to offer as one entry in a 10 item list. So, Lisbon ALSO has its own post. But here’s the best part: It is SO easy to get from Beja to Lisbon by bus. The bus station is just a short walk from the hotel. I was surprised that it was so inexpensive–just 14 Euros to ride in comfort with access to free wifi. Notice the stop in Evora.
- Venture Outside of Your Comfort Zone:
Why not stretch your limits? Try something new and exciting? You may make new friends, accumulate lots of memories and experience another culture in a way that is not possible when you are just passing through, visiting the usual tourist sites.